The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed a request on Tuesday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the March 9 Federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision which said there was no First Amendment protection in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for the approximately $65 million cemetery trust.
In asking the Supreme Court to review the decision relating to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Timothy Nixon, an attorney representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust, said in a press release there are compelling reasons for the court to take up this critical case.
“The Seventh Circuit decision encroaches on religious freedom and curtails the protections in the First Amendment for the free expression of religion,” he said, adding the decision is also directly at odds with previous decisions rendered by at least three other Federal appeals courts in different parts of the country.
In question in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s filing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy are the funds in a cemetery trust earmarked for cemetery maintenance to provide perpetual care for the archdiocesan cemeteries that cover 1,000 acres of land where more than 500,000 people are interred. Attorneys for the victim/survivors have argued that the funds should be used to compensate victims.
“The Supreme Court’s intervention is urgently needed to protect the religious freedoms the Seventh Court decision threatens and to restore the free exercise of religion protections the decision rolls back,” said Nixon. “At the same time, the country now has different federal courts offering conflicting opinions on these important Constitutional questions. Only the Supreme Court can clear up a deepening split on this important First Amendment issue and the free exercise of religious beliefs.”
Nixon told the Catholic Herald that asking the Supreme Court review a decision does not mean that it will.
However, should the Court accept the request, it would not begin deliberations until October.
In other news related to bankruptcy proceedings, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will file an amended plan for Chapter 11 reorganization and a second amended disclosure statement in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin by Monday, Aug. 3. The original plan and disclosure statement were filed Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014.
If it is similar to the original plan and disclosure statement, it will detail how the archdiocese will settle claims of creditors, including approximately 128 victim survivors of sexual abuse, and continue the work of the church in southeastern Wisconsin. It could also detail how the archdiocese has dealt with clergy who have sexually abused minors, how it has ministered to victim survivors of that abuse and who would receive compensation.
Objections to the amended disclosure statement, must be filed by Wednesday, Sept. 2. A hearing on that statement is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 9, 9:30 a.m., in the courtroom of Chief Judge Susan V. Kelley of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Other dates relative to the case can be found at tinyurl.com/reorgupdate2015.
In mid-June, attorneys for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (the committee) mutually agreed to forego another attempt to mediate a settlement in the archdiocese’s reorganization.
On Thursday, May 14, Judge Lynn Adelman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin offered to facilitate the mediation. The sides agreed to return to Adelman’s court Tuesday, June 16, for a status conference regarding the possibility for mediation. That hearing was rescheduled for Wednesday, June 24, but cancelled when attorneys opted not to engage in the mediation process.
It would have been the third attempt at mediation since the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011.
Contributing to this story was Maryangela Layman Román.